Sunday, February 4, 2007

Dungeness Crab: Worth Its Weight In Gold Plus a Recipe for Golden Balsamic Vinaigrette

A quick Internet search for current prices of mail order Dungeness crab (for those who don't live on the west coast of the United States between San Francisco and Alaska), found that one company sells it for $14.95 per pound, another offers a cooked whole 1.5 to 2-pound crab for $37.99, and Gorton's offers a 2 to 2.5-pound whole cook crab for $39.99. All of these do not include the shipping costs.

You do the math. Anyway you pencil it out, it's darned expensive.

Here in the tiny fishing port village of Trinidad, California, we can buy crab from some local fishermen at the beginning of the season (this year it started just before Christmas) for $5.00 each. That's right, you read correctly: $5.00 each.

At an average weight of 2 pounds per crab, that's $2.50 per pound. (You can't see me but I'm doing a smug little Snoopy dance right now.)

Of course you have to know who to call and when to call, and you have to be on time to pick up your order or the crabs just might be gone when you get there. All part of the fun, excitement and tension of waiting for the season to begin and the crabs to come in.

We had our fill of crab over the holidays, mostly freshly cooked, cracked and slurped down with a glass of champagne. Sometimes in salads like the one pictured here. Dressed with a golden balsamic (recipe below) or champagne vinaigrette, you can't go wrong.

Sated for the time being, it was January before I remembered I wanted to have some crab meat put away in the freezer so I could make crab cakes whenever I wanted to.

And that brings me to the reason for this post: from six large crabs in their shells to 1-pound packages of lovely lump meat, I'd like to show you the process and the yield. If you like crab like I do, I think you'll agree they're worth their weight in gold.

Six crabs, cooked whole with shell intact, weighed a total of 10 pounds. That's an average of 1.67 pounds per crab. Some were lighter, some were heavier. After removing the backs of the shells and cleaning the bodies, the crabs weighed in at 8 pounds total. I don't have photos of the "backing" and cleaning process. It takes both hands and it's not a very pretty sight.

Shelling crabs is time consuming. It took me a little over two hours to pick six crabs.

After all the picking was done I had a total of 3 pounds, 10 ounces of crab meat. I bagged three 1-pound packages to put in the freezer and kept the remaining 10 ounces to use right away in crab salad.

From start to finish it took me about 3 1/2 hours to clean, pick and bag six crabs. For each package I used two zip-lock freezer bags, double bagging and forcing out as much air as possible. Then I put them all together in another freezer bag for good measure. After all that work, you don't want freezer burned crab meat.

What will I get for my labors? I figure each pound of crab meat will yield about 16 dinner-size crab cakes.
Recipe coming...

For now, here's my golden balsamic vinaigrette recipe:
Golden Balsamic Salad Dressing
Christine's original recipe
Makes 1 cup
1 heaping tablespoon dijon mustard (I use Maille)
1/4 teaspoon sugar or Splenda granular
pinch kosher salt
several grinds black pepper
3 ounces extra-virgin olive oil
In a measuring cup, pour in the vinegar, mustard, sugar, salt and pepper. Whisk until combined.
Whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in the walnut oil then the olive oil.
Keep whisking until the mixture has thickened and is fully emulsified.
Taste and adjust seasonings.